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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Report Details Atrocities in Central African Republic

On Jan. 8, a man named Soba Tibati was sitting on a straw mat under a tree outside of his family’s hut in a small town called Boyali in the Central African Republic.

Suddenly, Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, showed up and attacked. They decapitated Soba Tibati and killed 12 members of his family, among them a baby girl.

Those events were recounted to Amnesty International field staff by a family member, Dairu Soba, who was shot in the leg while running away, escaping death that day after he saw Soba Tibati, his father, killed right before his eyes.

In a report released on Tuesday, Amnesty International laid out the results of weeks of investigation and more than 100 firsthand testimonies of large-scale anti-balaka attacks, such as those described by the survivor in Boyali.

The results show a campaign of ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic that has wiped out the northwest towns of Bouali, Boyali, Bossembele, Bossemptele and Baoro. International troops failed to deploy to these towns, leaving civilian communities without protection, the report said.

The most lethal attack documented by Amnesty International took place in Bossemptele, where at least 100 Muslims, including women and the elderly, were killed.

But Boyali, which lies about 22 miles from the capital, Bangui, was one of the first towns to be taken over by the anti-balaka militia, which has sought revenge for the brutal reign of the Seleka, the Muslim group that seized power in the country last year and was driven out last month.

In Boyali, the revenge against Muslim civilians started immediately after Seleka forces left on Jan. 8. The anti-balaka fighters killed some 30 civilians there, including the 13 members of Dairu Soba’s family, as he recounted in this excerpt:

My father, Soba Tibati, could hardly walk because of bad rheumatism and could not run away when the anti-balaka attacked our village last Wednesday. They decapitated him in front of my eyes as he sat on a straw mat under a tree outside our hut. Twelve other members of my family were also massacred in the same attack: among them were three of my father’s brothers, four sons of one of my uncles, my aunt, and three of my little cousins. The youngest was a baby girl who was just six months old.

The Amnesty report contains a compilation of the findings documented day after day by the group’s employees, as well as other dedicated human rights workers and journalists, who are traveling the country and disseminating firsthand interviews, images and observations on Twitter, Facebook and in other forms of online or social media communication.

Joanne Mariner, who works on crisis response for Amnesty, has been tracking the crisis daily on her Twitter account, @jgmariner:

The story of what happened in Boyali was one example of the type of revenge killings that prevailed after Jan. 8.

“Later the same day, Seleka forces and armed Muslim civilians returned to Boyali to exact revenge for the attack, killing several Christian civilians and burning hundreds of homes belonging to the Christian community,” said the report.

“Six days later, on 14 January, anti-balaka militias again attacked Muslim civilians in Boyali, this time targeting people who were trying to flee to safety. Six members of a single Muslim family, the Yamsas, were killed, all of them women and children.”

The emergency director of Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckaert, has also recorded the ethnic cleansing on his Twitter account, @bouckap, including these entries that reflected the work contained in Amnesty’s report, the first an apparent reference to the Yamsa family:

In addition to the killings by organized groups, individual vigilante mobs carried out retaliatory lynchings, Amnesty said in its report.

At the top of the two pages of recommendations Amnesty proposed, most addressed to the country’s transitional government, was this one:

Make it a priority, despite the precarious state of the country’s security forces, to demobilise and disarm anti-balaka and Seleka fighters and to prevent de facto anti-balaka and Seleka control of cities, towns and villages, ensuring that anti-balaka militias and Seleka forces currently occupying military bases across the country are ejected from those bases.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.